If you are into photography and have a bit of GAS, you have probably heard of incredible high ISO capabilities of Sony A7S camera, and just maybe, also heard of Mitakon’s lens for full-frame e-mount camera, Dark Night 50/0.95. Though, there have been extensive coverage of A7S, not much information is published about Dark Night. In fact, the only review of the combination that I know of is from Steve Huff.
This lens is probably not something you would adopt for daily usage, not only it is heavy, but will not offer any advantages if used at higher aperture settings. In other words, it is a specialty lens that produces some amazing results if used for the right purpose. Now that is not my intention to define what is right or wrong use-case for this lens, it is only you can decide based on your own taste and preferences.
For convenience, here are the specs from reseller site of this lens:
- Lens type: Prime lens
- Max format size: 135 Full frame
- Focal length: 50mm
- Image stabilisation: No
- Lens mount: Sony FE (a7 series)
- Maximum aperture: f/0.95
- Minimum aperture: f/16.0
- Aperture ring: Yes (Step-less, Preset)
- Number of diaphragm blades: 9
- Elements: 10 (4 ED lenses; 1 Ultra Hi-Refraction lens)
- Group: 7
- Autofocus / Manual focus: Manual focus
- Minimum focus: 50cm (19.7″)
- Distance scale: Yes
- DoF scale: Yes
- Weight: 720g (1.6lb)
- Diameter: 68.5mm (2.70″)
- Length: 87mm (3.4″)
- Materials: Metal barrel, metal mount
- Filter thread: 67mm
When coupled with Sony A7S, it makes for a perfect night-vision system capable of shooting scenes that are not accessible to many other cameras and lenses. You could also look into other full-frame f0.95 lenses available on the market (i.e. Leica) but, as of this writing, none of them beat it in cost-performance, and even sharpness in some cases. This lens is not without faults, like any other lens, flare proneness being one of them but that can be worked with and even used for creative imagery.
In combination with Sony A7S this lens has a very tight and secure physical connection to the camera, no electronic coupling (focal length or aperture will not be recorded in image metadata), perfect (at least for me) focusing mechanism, and de-clicked aperture ring (useful for video allowing smooth and silent change of aperture). I have to admit that it is on the heavy side but not as much as to be obtrusive. Also, lens hood that it comes with is not of high quality and does not fit with the filter on, or simply useless.
Allowing fairly close focus and with wide aperture, we can get depth of field measure in millimetres, which can be used creatively where desirable. Sharpness in the center is very good (please do not expect impossible) at wide open f0.95, and corners are more than acceptable. Chromatic aberration is visible at wide open aperture, which is expected for fast lenses, and can be dealt with easily in post. It also suffers from fairly bad LATERAL (or transverse) and the LONGITUDINAL chromatic aberration, and that is something that is hard to deal with but not an issue in most of the scenarios.
Heftiness of this lens can also be used to advantage, I found that it helped me in shooting video, extra bit of stabilization. With excellent focus-picking implementation by Sony, focusing while holding camera at waist level is a breeze. The same principle applies for photography, where you will need to focus manually with this lens.
Some might see lack of auto-focus as a disadvantage but I would beg to differ, it gives you time to align/build your scene and slow you down and is the preferable method of focusing for video as well. Admittedly, I would not go shooting sports with this lens (or maybe any manual focus lens), or any subjects that tend to stay on a move, but if you shoot portraiture or almost inanimate objects, it works really well. One more advantage of focusing manually is ability to place focus on the precise point you need it to be, and get the shot that you want. It can be challenging to focus at f0.95, since DOF is so shallow, with practice and patience you should be able to do it “with your eyes closed”.
Since this lens is all about shallow DOF, “bokeh” should be looked at as one of the points to consider. There is no scientific way I can discuss about it but to my taste it is not bad in most situations. One should be cautious of shooting against background with wealth of details with this lens, it tends to get busy and at times can give vertigo effect, desirably or otherwise. Fall-off from area in focus to out-of-focus is smooth and milky, making photograph look dreamy (with some cream). At first when I saw initial shots taken with the lens, I was impressed with 3D pop that it produced but was not too impressed with bokeh in some of the shots. Now, after using this lens for a few months, I am fairly convinced that I will keep it and use it for foreseeable future.
Conclusion: I would advice anyone interested in this combination to perform research about this Mitakon Dark Night 50mm f0.95 and Sony A7S independently, to find if it is right for them. In my opinion, it is worth every penny. Sony A7S is very versatile camera with a lot to offer, despite only having 12 megapixels but a full-frame sensor with nearly night-vision capabilities and decent dynamic range to offer.
TL;DR: If you want to have yourself a killer combination of lens and camera that is capable of stunning imagery and able to shoot in moonlight, you might want to consider Sony A7S with Mitakon Dark Night 50mm f0.95 lens. It is not perfect (nothing is in this world) but is capable combination. Gallery with some more snapshots taken with this combo.